Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Almost Spring

A garden surprise party. I nearly forget the bulbs and the flowers they bring until one morning I walk outside to find a living bouquet of cheerful flowers reminding me that spring is near. We're pruning trees, turning soil and getting ready for early garden vegetables thankful for our mild coastal climate that offers a head start on spring.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pilgrimage To Zingerman's

 Just a short drive from Detroit is the university town of Ann Arbor, home U of M and Zingerman's culinary empire. I've been getting Zingerman's quirky hand drawn catalogue of high-end gourmet items  like sardines from Spain, cheeses from Zingerman's creamery and around the world and crusty breads chewy and delicious enough to mail order.
Behind every corner is an employee so proud of the richly sourced products they cannot wait to offer you a taste. I was already buying a beautiful bottle of 16 year old balsamic but was offered a taste just the same. I asked about a couple local Michigan cheeses and my very attentive Zingerman's counter clerk whisked away to bring me tastes -- happily pointing out which she liked best and condiments and sundries from around the store that would make a winning combination. That's how I ended up with a rich creamy cheese coated in liquor soaked raisins (not local but superb) and Zingerman's house baked graham crackers.
 My first thought is how can a place so small hold in so much deliciousness. Zingerman's is jammed packed with products, a cheese and charcuterie case, breads, and hungry patrons waiting in line for the famous sandwiches. A friendly face wearing an apron waits in front of the deli case to take your order, hand you a ticket, and show you to the cashier/ sit down area in an adjacent building. "The red building and to the left." No one seems to worry that I am walking outside with an basket of products into a completely open area.
Not quite so small, it turns out that Zingerman's deli is a compound of four buildings (the creamery and bakehouse -- "the artisan facilities" are in another part of town) and a patio that must be packed with hungry co-eds in spring weather.
I settle down with #18, a turkey and swiss Reuben with Zingerman's homemade coleslaw and Russian dressing, all wrapped up in grilled, crusty Jewish rye. Zingerman's sandwiches come in two sizes -- this one, BTW was the small or "nosher" size with a super sour garlic pickle and a side of beet feta salad.
If all this weren't enough just across the patio is a cheery yellow building. Desserts, coffees, gelato, candies and more than one employee who visible swooned over slices of hummingbird cake. At $6.99 a slice a swoon is required.
Prices aside (actually the sandwiches were pretty much NY deli prices and just about big enough to make them a value) if I were in the area again I'd stop in and try another of the 80 some offered sandwiches -- and to bring home a couple tasty presents.
Coming home soon Honey!
 A Zingerman's picnic.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Looking Out At Detroit

A couple inches of snow between me and Detroit's quirky world of restaurants

Saturday, January 19, 2013

La Shish Detroit, MI

The re-birth of an old favorite
Detroit, MI has the world's largest arabic speaking population outside of the Middle East. Yes that's culturally interesting, a growing population that according to Time Magazine is bringing prosperity to an area many thought (and still believe) was in terminal decline. No less a Detroit citizen than Henry Ford himself recruited thousands of Lebanese and Yemenis and Arabic speakers from the crumbling, defunct Ottoman Empire. Today descendants of those workers and a continuing stream of new immigrants bring their culture and traditions and most importantly foods to winter's very shore in Detroit.
What that history means for a food focused traveler like me is a plethora of Middle Eastern (many Lebanese focused) to choose from.
Tonight we ventured to La Shish, a very casual halal restaurant. The original La Shish was a popular Dearborn area chain for years until a strange collection of accusations -- reported crimes and blood money and tax evasion caused the chain to close (and the original owner to flee the country). Just last year a new owner bought the restaurant, the logo, the recipes and re-opened a Michigan favorite.
La Shish is a hole in the wall. Some of our large group for dinner got very quiet as they walked in glancing at the TVs, paper napkins, and the "gentleman's club" next door. Once the food started coming out there was little cause for concern. LA Shish makes fresh hot pita from a wood fired oven in the back and offers all of the usual starters and dips -- creamy smooth hummus, lamb stuffed grape leaves scented with cumin and coriander and perhaps cinnamon, crisp lemony salads, tabouli of bright green parsley. Because we were a large group we opted for one of the extravagant combo platters. The flaming tower -- which although delicious was no tower at all but a massive serving plate covered with rice, shwarma, ground lamb "sausages"and beef kebabs among other treats perfectly seasoned and a delicious foil to La Shish's vibrant, aggressive, delicious, garlic sauce.
For Detroit La Shish is one of many, in any other city La Shish would be on every best of list.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Bareroot Season! So Many To Choose from.

I know they don't look like much now, but I love them so. These are our newest fruit trees -- an Indian Blood Cling Peach, a Free Strawberry Peach, and a Pineapple Quince. All heirloom varieties known for exceptional flavor and heartiness in our cooler, rainy winters. As opposed to the more well known container plants, bareroots are exactly that -- young grafted trees with exposed roots to be put quickly in the ground. They are easier  to plant (you don't need such a big hole) and less than half the price of container grown trees -- not to mention much lighter to bring home. It's often possible to get more unique varieties as bareroots. We picked these beauties up from the nursery today and James planted them so I could see my sweet little trees in the ground before leaving town. Today they seem like naked sticks but this spring they'll be full of beautiful flowers and in less than 2 short years (it's best not to let a bareroot tree fruit the first year to help build a stronger root system) delicious fruits.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Salad James Won't Eat

James won't eat beets. He won't even try them. But I had some in the fridge so I made this lovely salad -- something James won't eat. Thinking back to that long gone pledge to cook every recipe in Jim Lahey's My Bread cookbook. I roasted my beets and followed Lahey's "recipe" for marinated beets which is basically red onions and sliced beets left to marinate in red wine vinegar. Hardly a taxing recipe. I left my beets to marinate and then in my own version of Lahey's marinated beet sandwich I tossed the marinated veggies with olive oil, arugula, and -- because I didn't have goat cheese in the house -- Nicasio Valley Cheese Company's Foggy Morning, a tangy but delicate fresh white cheese.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I'm Out Of Everything Cake

Banana Blueberry Pound Cake. An Invention.
I started off to use up the buttermilk in the fridge and make James a quick poundcake to have while I am gone. It started off to be so easy.
I creamed 1 cup of butter with 3 cups of sugar and was just about to add the eggs when I realized I had cooked some of the precious few I had left for James' breakfast. Not to worry I added in a whole banana and 2 TB of vegetable oil to substitute for the missing eggs and then added in the two eggs I had. In a separate bowl I mixed together 3 cups of flour, 3/4 tsp of baking soda and 1 tsp of baking powder (for safety sake). I went for the buttermilk and instead of the cup I had planned on I found a 1/2 cup at best. I mixed 1/2 cup buttermilk and 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt. I alternated adding the buttermilk and the flour mixtures to the mixer (starting and ending with the buttermilk). The batter looked creamy and smooth. I slipped in a tsp of vanilla and started eyeing the pint of blueberries in the fridge. We probably wouldn't eat them before I left. James loves blueberries. Banana blueberry seemed like a good combination -- in they went. I gave the batter one last stir and poured it into a greased (though not quite well enough) 10" tube pan. The super moist flavorful cake baked for 70 minutes at 325º.
Maybe not my prettiest cake, but no complaints on the taste. I might just try this one again -- on purpose.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Freezer Cleaning Soup

I've been nursing a cold. And I'm nearly on my way out of town again. I like to leave James easy to find and easy to reheat meals in the freezer when I am away from home so I needed to make a little room. I took out the bag of chicken backs and bones and various parts not cooked for dinner and a collection of turkey bones and some meat from a roasted bird. I dumped the meats into a stock pot, added celery, carrot, onion, bay leaf and peppercorns and let the liquid simmer until I had a rich stock.
I strained the sock and started a clean pot with chopped onion, clever, leek, garlic, and carrot sautéing in olive oil. After about 8 minutes I added in the strained stock and brought the liquid briefly to a boil. At this point I thickened the soup with leftover gravy (also cleaned out of the freezer). Handfuls of cubed potatoes and chopped cabbage went in and the pot was allowed to simmer for about 15 minutes until the potatoes were tender. I finished the soup with cooked noodles and chopped meat (reserved from the stock pot).
Hearty, warm dinner and a clean freezer. The perfect way to get over a cold.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Today's Bread

James has really taken to this raisin walnut bread I've been baking lately. I'm on my 4th loaf since I tried the recipe in Jim Lahey's indispensable book, My Bread. Today I stretched and added a pan of "stecca." Laheys not quite breadsticks, not quite baguette chewy breads, just right for long, thin sandwiches and antipasto platters.
Looking for new inspiration I was thumbing through some of my cookbooks today and flipped through the pages of Tartine Bread. It's gloriously photographed pages celebrate the genius of baker Chad Robertson and make it seem possible that we mere mortals could create the luscious offerings he turns out in his San Francisco bakery. Until you look just a bit closer. After Lahey's truly revolutionary method could I go back to starters and poolish and multiple rises and kneading? Each recipe in Tartine depends on two or three others (Not unlike my hero superstar chef Thomas Keller's cookbooks).  I was so thrilled when James bought me Robertson's cookbook I couldn't wait to bake like the master. And yet, it sits on the shelf -- beautiful and distant -- while Lahey's recipes trot out every couple days.
Lahey is homemade bread for the real world -- Robertson is still a dream.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

They Are Growing Up So Fast

Out for a walk on a frosty morning our little honeydrop triplets strolling with their older sister and resident mother hen, Connie.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Football and Burgers

It's handy having ranchers for neighbors.
Not usually a big sports fan, nonetheless James has been having a great time having a football buddy down the road. Whenever he can our neighbor Mike comes over to watch the games. I usually am in charge of snacks but tonight Mike showed up with a package of his delicious grass fed ground beef, rolls, lettuce and tangy dubliner cheese. I whipped up some burgers (grilled with a pat of butter in the center to give the grass fed beef a little richness) and sweet potato fries.
Go Niners!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Spaghetti 2013

First spaghetti of 2013.
Spaghetti is a staple around here. The sauce is never quite the same. Unless I am making James' favorite spaghetti and clam sauce -- I try not to mess with that.
Tonight I took all the little ends of pancetta and salami in the meat drawer, chopped them up and tossed them in a frying pan to render out a little tasty fat. I helped out with a little extra olive oil. I sprinkled in some salt and chili flakes and then added about 1/3 head of very thinly sliced cauliflower to cook in the tasty oil. While the spaghetti was boiling I tossed a little cooking water into the cauliflower and covered the vegetable loosely to cook through.
When the pasta was drained I mixed in the cauliflower, a pat of butter, and a splash more of the cooking water and gave everything a good stir. Topped with grated parmesan cheese that was our first pasta 2013. many, many more to come.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Warming Winter Stew

Not too long ago James went to an afternoon party at our neighbors, cattle and sheep ranchers and avid gardeners. As he started the car to come home he noticed not just a dozen multi-colored eggs but several winter squash had found their way inside the car. James wasn't quite sure what to do with his new found loot.
I love butternut, pumpkin, acorn - - all kinds of winter squash. These beautiful hubbards and tromboncinos are great just roasted on in a simple soup but I thought I go a little further. Tooling around the internet I found a recipe for Moroccan winter stew from Bruce Aidells. I figure if meat lover and expert Aidells can present a vegetarian dinner it might just be good enough for my James. I started by sautéing a chopped onion and 3 cloves of garlic in olive oil. I seasoned that mixture with 2 tsp of paprika and 1/2 tsp each of cumin, coriander, chili powder, ginger, turmeric, a tsp of salt and a pinch of saffron. I added one small can of tomatoes (from our backyard garden), 1 cup of water, and the juice of one small lemon and brought the liquid to a boil. Into the pot went about 3 cups of cubed butternut squash along with several carrots and parsnips (I just happen to have them) peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces. After 20 minutes simmering (covered) over medium-low heat the vegetables were tender and the stew was ready to serve.
Aidells serves his stew (or rather the recipe he created along with chef wife Nancy Oakes) over flavorful quinoa. I'd used all my carrots and felt ready to finish chopping so I took a shortcut and ladled James's winter stew of fluffy, buttery couscous seasoned (and colored) with turmeric. A sprinkle of chopped mint hinted at the recipe's Moroccan theme.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Even Easier Polenta

I know I've gone on and on about the various virtues of polenta made in the oven. "I'll never make it any other way," I declared -- that was before my oven was a rainy walk across the yard. I've found another way -- perfect for a crowd or a party -- my beloved crock pot. Simple.
First I coated the ceramic insert with spray olive oil -- thinking about a potentially sticky clean up later. I poured 3 cups of polenta and 8 cups of water into the pot along with a glug of olive oil, 2 TB of butter, and more than a pinch of salt. I set the temperature to high, covered the crock pot and gave the contents a whisk every half hour or so - to keep out polenta creamy and smooth. After about two hours (the polenta was really starting to thicken) I added a good sized handful of grated cheese, a few more TB of butter and S&P to taste. After 4 hours on low (I could have let it go for maybe 8 or 10 hours if I had a party waiting) I topped James' polenta with roast chicken, pan-fried cauliflower (with garlic and pine nuts) and piquant Italian style salsa verde, a chopped mixture of capers, anchovies, parsley, arugula, sage, garlic and olive oil also great on steaks and sandwiches.
Polenta makes great leftovers. I love it for breakfast with eggs or chilled, sliced and fried as a side dish treat later in the week.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Another Homemade Winner

James claims he doesn't like olives. I just can't accept that. He likes olive oil. He likes the flavor. There is just something he doesn't like about biting into an olive.
Black, red, brown, green, brine cured, salt cured  . . . I love them all.
With a bag of black oil-cured super piquant olives in the fridge and my still favorite bread cookbook, My Bread by Jim Lahey, on the shelf. I decided to try a new recipe from the bread guru -- Olive bread. Basically it's Lahey's famous no-knead bread recipe (3 cups flour, 3/4 tsp yeast, 1 1/2 cups water -- no salt in this case as the olives can be quite salty -- all mixed together and allowed to rise for 18 - 20 hours)  with a good quantity of chopped olives.
After the first rise Lahey's ingenius home bread making plan instructs the baker to form the dough into a rustic loaf (well a rough ball, seam down) onto a kitchen towel dusted in cornmeal and allow the bread to rise again for 2 hours. The dough is then rolled into a pre-heated dutch oven (1/2 hour) to bake at 450º for 30 minutes covered and 30 minutes uncovered to mimic the delightful results and chewy crust of artisanal loaves fresh from a wood fired oven.
James didn't try this loaf right away. When I set out an appetizer plate with salami, prosciutto, and Andante dairy's outrageously delicious seasonal mixed milk tomme, Impromtu James realized he may not like olives . .. but he loves Olive bread.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Don't Worry About Stale Bread

It doesn't happen often but every now and then part of a loaf of bread goes stale -- too stale for toast or crostini. Usually I put it into the blender or food processor and store away breadcrumbs for my next batch of meatballs or a crispy milanese. Today I just didn't feel like more crumbs. I wanted to try something new. I've had a recipe for panade, a French casserole of vegetables and milk and stale bread, for quite some time waiting for just the right moment. No time like the present -- especially when I have half a large loaf of very stale italian bread waiting to be rescued.
First I crunched the bread up into 1/2 - 1 inch pieces, crust and all. Then I peeled a butternut squash and cut it into 1/4 - 1/2 inch slices, chopped a good bunch of stemmed black kale, and sliced part of a head of cauliflower. Meanwhile I sautéed two finely chopped shallots in 2 TB of butter, added in a quart of milk, two cloves of garlic, 6 more TB butter, S&P, and a pinch of nutmeg and brought the mixture almost to a boil. I grated two big handfuls of mimoette and Gruyere cheese (cheddar would work just as well -- I used what we had) and started to layer my panade.
Into a large dutch oven I put down a thick base of my roughly torn bread crumbs. I topped that layer with the sliced squash and about half the cheese. After a splash of half the milk mixture in went another layer of bread topped with the kale, the cauliflower and another layer of cheese. The rest of the milk covers the layers, just to come to the rim of the pot. Add some more milk or cream or even a splash of water or broth if needed to reach the rim of the pot.
I could have had dinner ready faster, but to get a custardy texture I baked my panade (covered with a rimmed pan underneath -- it will bubble over) at 275º for almost 3 hours. The last 10 minutes uncovered at 375º made sure James had a crispy cheese crust to cover the creamy interior.
A peasant dish for a cozy winter's night.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Delicious Donation

An oddity of Northern California. I'm sure this may happen in other areas where dungeness crab is king but here in Norcal during our highly anticipated crab season up crop a bevy of crab feeds -- all you can eat events that raise money for community causes, businesses, schools or other assuredly worth causes.
Last night we headed to nearby Rohnert Park for the Chamber of Commerce's annual event where we were served steamed shrimp by the little berg's mayor,  filled plates with pasta, garlic bread and salad and tried to save room for the main event. Dozens and dozens of delicious crabs hot from the pot.
So often dungeness crab is served cold but piping hot and fresh cooked is nothing short of a taste revelation. We love the winter months.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Bread Resolution 2013

James and I both love the bread from Petaluma's highly praised Della Fattoria. For quite some time after tasting their chewy crusty wood oven baked loaves I just gave up. How could I ever compete with that rosemary meyer lemon deliciousness. Yet, at about $7 a loaf (not to mention the few places that carry it do run out quickly) it's dangerous to make too much of  habit.
So I went back to my bread basics, My Bread by baking guru Jim Lahey. Lahey's near effortless no-knead method produces crusty chewy loaves from an ordinary home oven.
I flipped through the book for something I hadn't made (when was that I made that resolution to bake everything in his book -- hmm still not accomplished) and settled on a walnut raisin bread that seemed perfect for morning toast.
Chewy, airy, crusty -- it's not a $7 loaf but pretty darn good for home. 2013 might be the year I make more homemade bread.

Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Day Belated

I'm not sure when it started but I always eat black eyed peas on New Year's Day. Sure, it's an age old Southern tradition but honestly I don't remember my family growing up eating black-eyed peas on New Year's or any other day. I'm not sure where the tradition came from or when I started but I do know -- though I am hardly what anyone would call superstitious -- I never start a year without cowpeas, usually mixed up with rice and salt pork for hoppin' John. I do love hoppin' John . . . maybe that's why I started, a simple convenient excuse to eat something delicious.
In any case though I was traveling New Year's day I wanted to start 2013 with my beloved black-eyed peas. James and I postponed our holiday dinner until today. Instead of my usual rice and cowpeas dish I opted for a most un-Southern Greek style vegetarian stew flavored with tomato paste, onions, garlic, chili peppers, celery and carrots.
The chopped vegetables sauté in an ample amount of olive oil until soft -- about 5 minutes. Next I added in half a jar of homemade tomato sauce (I happened to have some in the fridge), tomato paste dissolved in water, chopped garlic, fresh black-eyed peas, and water to cover. I brought the mixture to a boil and allowed the stew to simmer, covered for 30 minutes. After tasting for seasoning and adding S&P the stew simmered covered for another 20 minutes. To finish our New Year's dish I tossed in two small handfuls of fregola, the toasted Sardinian pasta (but any small shape -- orzo maybe -- would have been fine), The stew cooked for another 10 minutes or so on medium high heat until the beans and the pasta were tender and ready to serve.
Feta would have been ideal to top this vegetarian stew -- but the next best thing -- at least in our fridge, was Ricotta Salata, a delicious aged salty version the cheese most of us know as a creamy filling for lasagna.
I suppose that Southern New Year's Day is never too far away -- alongside James' healthful tomatoey stew -- pan fried slices of crispy, fatty, salty, ham. A great way to start.
Happy New Year one and all.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Brought Home In A Box

I guess it's not quite carry out if dinner flew across the country. On my way to the airport I couldn't not bring James a taste of Maryland so my closest crab shack/ seafood carry out was good enough to wrap up tasty crab cakes (out of season winter cakes though they were) with a cooler and gel packs for the long ride home to dungeness country. Quickly pan fried with crispy potatoes and super spicy homemade cocktail sauce (ketchup, horseradish, siracha, lemon juice, S&P) we had a tasty East coast dinner in our California kitchen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why Haven't I Seen These Before?

I like to think this amazing idea was the pet project of some slightly mad gluttonous crab lover (like me) working away in his secluded kitchen. But in fact I've now seen these crab topped pretzels in more than one Maryland location. The soft East coast style pretzels are topped with a loose crab topping -- more like a crab imperial than a crab dip. The whole deliciousness is baked in the oven so the pretzel is warm  (and a bit crisp if you are lucky) and the topping bubbling.
Two East coast favorites in one dish. Why didn't I think of this?